Our Stories

MILTON Math Program Inspires Deep, Integrated Learning in Grades 2-8

September 22, 2023 by Elizabeth Zitelli (Faculty and Staff)

In second grade math classrooms, students are hard at work learning place value. They array a group of colorful blocks in front of themselves on the desks and begin to manipulate them to create groups of ten, twenty, one hundred. The work is physical, tactile, and collaborative, turning abstract math problems represented on the page into concrete reality. 

Third graders build fraction circles. They build and rebuild the circles to represent the parts of the whole. In later years, they match and stack circles to better understand equivalent fractions. 

This is “Multisensory Math,” an approach that MILTON teachers have paired with the “Math in Focus” curriculum to enhance understanding of key concepts. 

“Math in Focus is a very strong curriculum,” says Math Department chair Dafna Sherman, “each topic is introduced with an age-appropriate question that stimulates students’ background knowledge, while simultaneously encouraging them toward further exploration within the lesson for deeper understanding. They recognize that there’s something to learn and realize what they’ve accomplished by the end of the lesson. It’s a metacognitive process.”

Grade three students use base ten blocks

Sherman speaks with pride about the MILTON general studies teachers and learning specialists who are always seeking new ways to make math come alive for their students. They enthusiastically seek out and attend professional development training to learn new ways to teach math. Many have taken the MultiSensory Math training, which is aligned with Orton Gillingham approaches to reading instruction. They also provide students with sentence stems to enable young students to converse about word problems at a high level.

“With a dual curriculum, every teaching moment with our students is precious and must be layered. Math is no exception. Students are honing analytical and close reading skills that also serve them with textual analysis in all their classes,” says head of school Deborah Skolnick-Einhorn.

Dafna Sherman works with grade seven math students

Use of manipulatives continues in Middle School. Students use counters to learn integer addition and subtraction, to reinforce that a positive 1 and a negative 1 cancel to make zero. 

On a recent day in seventh grade, students worked in pairs to solve a math problem posed by Sherman. -5 – 2= ? 

Students flipped the multi-colored disks over to represent negative and positive numbers; white for positive, red for negative, as they grappled with the problem together. Some came up with the right answer while others indicated that the counters did not help clarify the concept. Undaunted, Sherman introduced another visual tool, drawing a number line on the board. Faces brightened in recognition as Sherman showed subtraction along the number line. One student offered “So subtracting a negative is the same as adding a positive number?” “Yes!” exclaimed Sherman, “Exactly! Did you all hear that? Let’s all write it in our notebooks.” The student beamed at having properly summarized the learning as others worked to write it down. The energy in the room was relaxed, positive, and collaborative. 

While subtracting a negative number may be the same as adding a positive, it is clear that MILTON math teachers have a positive impact all around. 

Grade seven students use counters 

Positive suggestions for math class discussions

Grade three students use place value chart

Fraction circles

Grade two student using base ten blocks